DE&E: Chapter 3:4

In this paragraph, Thomas continues to navigate carefully between the errors of nominalism and platonic idealism. He’s established that a thing’s essence, its nature, isn’t many, because then one couldn’t say that two individuals have the same essence; and that a thing’s essence isn’t one (or, perhaps, ONE), because then all individuals would share exactly one and the same nature, and that nature would have to exist apart from any one of them. But if it isn’t many, and it isn’t one, what is it?

Nevertheless, the nature understood in this way is not a universal notion, because unity and commonality are in the notion of a universal, and neither of these pertains to human nature considered absolutely. For if commonality were in the concept of man, then in whatever humanity were found, there would be found commonality, and this is false, because no commonality is found in Socrates, but rather whatever is in him is individuated.

Because the essence, the nature, isn’t one, it’s not a universal. You’d think it would be, but it isn’t.

Similarly, the notion of genus or species does not pertain to human nature as an accident arising from the existence that the nature has in individuals, for human nature is not found in individuals according to its unity such that it will be one thing in all the individuals, which the notion of the universal demands.

And since a thing’s nature is not a universal that exists in the individual thing, the notions of genus and species cannot exist in that thing either.

The only possibility, therefore, is that the notion of species pertains to human nature according to the existence human nature has in the intellect.

Or, as Phil reminds me regularly, species and genus are logical intentions that exist in the intellect; they are, in fact, second intentions, which is to say they are based on first intentions, which are concepts we apprehend from sense experience.

Or to put it in less hifalutin’ terms, I see men, I apprehend Man, I understand Man in relation to other things in terms of species and genus.

So the upshot of all of this is that species, genus, and (I presume) essence are one as they exist in the intellect; for essence does not exist either universally or singularly in the real world.

I’m not sure I quite get that; I’ll have to ponder it for a while.

3 Responses to “DE&E: Chapter 3:4”

  1. “So the upshot of all of this is that species, genus, and (I presume) essence are one as they exist in the intellect;”

    I think this is another source of error – there is the absolute sense, and then the relative sense; the relative sense has two subsenses, as it is in things, and as it is in the intellect. You might be missing the subdistinction.

    You’ve somehow boiled it down to the opposition between the absolute and as it exists in intellect (quiddity). That probably doesn’t feel like Thomas-land, and you seem to be aware of it (congratulate yourself on developing your instinct, which shows how far you’ve come). But maybe re-read that subdistinction? It should get you back on the right path.

    Another thing that might help is laying out the text pictorially. Quick example – let’s say you have a text like this:

    The essence of a thing is said in many ways. In one way it is said absolutely. In another way it is said as it exists in things, and this in two ways: in one way, as it exists in being, in another as it exists in the intellect.

    use your word processor to lay it out like this (hard to do on a blog):

    The essence of a thing is said in many ways.
    In one way it is said absolutely.
    And in this sense it is independent of any predication.

    In another way it is said as it exists in things,
    and this in two ways:
    in one way, as it exists in being,
    in another as it exists in the intellect.

    sort of like this (if it doesn’t come through because it’s eliminating my spacing, I’ll have to look at another way to make my meaning clear).

    Anyway sometimes that can help see where Thomas is distinguishing, where he is opposing one thing with another, and what is opposed and distinguished from what (cf square of opposition).

  2. yep, spacing didn’t come through. Ugh.

    Well, indent each line 5 spaces to represent the branching, sub branches get 10 spaces, sub sub branches get 15 spaces, and so forth. That way you don’t get lost in a textual morass.

  3. Will says:

    Not to worry about the spacing, I can see what you’re doing. I’m going to have to read carefully through all of this again, I can see. (Flew home from my business trip today, and I am utterly wiped.)